Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
One of the core issues in contemporary political philosophy is concerned with `political obligation.' Stated in an overly simplified way, the question being asked when one investigates political obligation is, "What, if anything, do citizens owe to their government and how are these obligations generated if they do exist?" The majority of political philosophers investigating this issue agree that a political obligation is a moral requirement to act in certain ways concerning political matters (e.g. a moral requirement to obey the laws and support one's country). Despite this agreement about the general nature of what is being searched for, a broad division has arisen between political obligation theorists - there are some who take political obligations to actually exist ("defenders of political obligation") and there are some who take there to be no general political obligation ("philosophical anarchists"). While there is debate within the camp defending political obligation about what it is that generates the obligations, the common core of all "defender theories" is the fundamental idea that one has a moral requirement(s) to support and obey the political institutions of one's country. Despite utilitarianism's status as one of the major ethical theories, historically, it has largely been dismissed by theorists concerned with political obligation. Within the contemporary debate it is generally accepted that utilitarianism cannot adequately accommodate a robust theory of political obligation.
The overarching objective of this dissertation is to challenge this general dismissal of a utilitarian account and to build upon the two accounts which have been developed (R.M. Hare's and Rolf Sartorius') in offering a robust utilitarian theory of political obligation which can be considered a competitor to the other contemporary theories (i.e., theories of consent, gratitude, fair play or fairness, membership or association, and natural duty). However, as this utilitarian account of political obligation develops, the possibility will also emerge for a non-antagonistic relationship between the utilitarian theory on offer and the contemporary political obligation debate. The moral reasons posited by the traditional theories of political obligation (i.e., consent, fair play, gratitude, associative, and natural duty) can be included in and accommodated by my utilitarian account. The utilitarian account of political obligation can accept that there are many types of reasons explaining why broad expectations concerning individual and group behavior are created, and each type of reason can be understood as supporting the utilitarian claim that there are moral reasons for following the laws and supporting legitimate political authorities.
Taken all together, my arguments will take the form of a three tiered response to the prevailing opinion that any utilitarian attempt to account for political obligations is doomed. The first tier contends that the utilitarian can consistently claim that there are moral reasons to follow the law. This is not a particularly strong claim, but it is one which has been denied by the vast majority of political theorists. The second tier of my argument addresses this apparent issue by contending that even the traditional deontological accounts of political obligation are not offering more than this. Lastly, it is contended that, given the contingent features of humans (i.e., intellectual fallibility, selfish biases, and the way moral education is tied to rules), the strength of the utilitarian political obligations is comparable to other accounts' analyses of the obligations.
Legitimate Authority, Political Obligation, Utilitarianism
vii, 285 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 276-285).
Copyright 2014 Brian Collins
Collins, Brian. "A utilitarian account of political obligation." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2014.